A very Important Issue for understanding Tawheed: What is meaning of ilah?

The purpose of this article is to make the people aware of the basic concept of tawheed(monotheism). Because unfortunately due to lack of basic knowledge even some ignorant muslims are committing Shirk and they are in an illusion that because they don’t call anyone other than Allah as Ilah or God, they are on monotheism. But this is not true because what counts is the practice not mere titles. Just because they don’t term anyone besides Allah as Ilah or God but attribute to those saints or Imams acts of worship or qualities of Allah then that doesn’t mean that they are not committing Shirk because there is no difference between the polytheists of Makkah and these people, because if a bottle filled with poison is labelled as energy drink then the reality doesn’t change, because the reality is based on the content not the label. So in this article we like to highlight this issue in a summarized manner.

The meaning of “ILAH”‌

Ibn Faris (d. 395 H.) said: “The Hamza, Lam, and Haa (individual Arabic letters that make up the word “ilah”) is a root meaning “to worship”. Thus al-Ilah is Allah The Exalted, and He is called that because He is worshipped. And it is said: a man ta`allaha (is godly), if he devoted himself to worshipping.” (Mu`jam Maqayis Al-Lugha by Ibn Faris (1/127) )

The Ilah, the one worshipped is Allah -Azza wa Jal-, then it (the word ilah) was borrowed by the polytheists for what they worshipped (of idols and other things) other than Allah The Exalted (Al-Misbah Al-Muneer by Al-Fayyumi, the root “Alah”‌) , because they believed that it deserved to be worshipped (Lisan Al-Arab by Ibn Mandhur , the root “Alah”‌.).

Al-Bayhaqi (d. 458 H.) : Thus the meaning of al-Ilah is: The worshipped, and the saying of those who testify to the Oneness of Allah: La ilaha illa Allah means: none is worshiped but Allah.” (Al-Asma Wa Sifat (1/58) Al-Hashidi edition.)



It is essential for proper comprehension of the teachings of the Qur’an fully to understand the implications of the  terms like “Ilah” or “Rabb” or “Iba’dah”. The Qur’an will in fact lose its whole meaning for anyone who does not know what is meant by “Ilah” or “Rabb”, what constitutes “Iba’dah”, and what the Qur’an means when it uses the word “Deen”. People will fail to learn what Tawhid (belief in the One-ness of Allah in the fullest sense) is, or what constitutes its anti-thesis, that is, shirk (the attribution to others, either wholly or partially, of any of Allah’s exclusive qualities or attributes).

It will not be possible for those people to make their ‘ibadah, or their deen, exclusive for Allah alone. And little better than such completely ignorant people would be those who has only a vague idea of what the terms imply, because in that case the whole teaching of the Qur’an will remain vague and incomplete for them, and both their belief and their conduct will fatally leave much to be desired. They  will no doubt keep on reciting the words of the kalimah, and even explain that it means that there is no ilah but Allah, and yet, in practice, they will keep treating many another to be an ilah too. They  will go through life proclaiming that there is no rabb but Allah, and yet for all that there will be many whom they will be treating as rabbs. They  will protest, and affirm, with all seriousness and sincerity, that they does not give their ‘ibadah to any but Allah, and will yet keep giving to others unknowingly. If anyone even so much as hints that he has any other deen, he would feel offended enough to come to blows with the accuser, and yet in practice, he will unwittingly be giving his allegiance to many another deens. No-one will ever hear him actually use the words Allah or rabb in respect of any but in the specific sense in which the words have been employed in the Qur’an, but he will be conducting himself as if he had many an ilah and many a rabb though without realizing this just like the person who never realized until he was specifically told that he had been uttering prose all his life; If someone were to tell him in so many words that he was giving his ‘ibadah to others, and thus committing shirk, he might resent this strongly and even quarrel violently, but according to the criteria applicable he will unconsciously have been living as a worshiper of others as an adherent of the deens of others, without ever suspecting that in fact was the case.


Why the Misapprehensions ?

The reason why the misapprehensions hinted at above have come into existence is a historical one. When the Qur’an was first presented to the Arabs they all knew what was meant by ilah or rabb as both the words were already current in their language.`Those were not new terms, nor were any new meanings put upon them. They knew fully well what the connotations were and so, when it was said that Allah alone is the IIah, and the Rabb and that no-one has the least share in the qualities and attributes which the words denote, they at once comprehended the full import, understood completely without any doubt or uncertainty as to what specifically was being declared to pertain to Allah exclusively and what was being hence denied to others. Those who opposed the precept were very clear in their minds as to the implications of denying others than Allah to be ilahs or rabbs, in any sense, while those who accepted it knew equally well what they would have to give up by their acceptance and what they would forgo.

Similarly, the words ‘ibadah and deen were in common use, and the people knew what was meant by ‘abd, what state was implied by ‘ubudiyyah (the state of being an ‘abd) what kind of conduct was referred to when the word ‘ibadah was used, and what was the sense of the term deen. So, when they were told to give up the ‘ibadah of all others and reserve it exclusively for Allah, and give up all other deens and enter into the Deen of Allah only, they felt no difficulty in concluding what the Qur’anic da’wah (message) implied and the drastic revolution in their way of life it sought to bring about.

But as centuries passed, the real meanings of these terms gradually under went subtle changes so that, in course of time, instead of the full connotations, they came to stand for only very limited meanings or restricted and rather vague concepts. One reason was the gradual decline of interest in the Arabic language and the other that the words ceased to have the same meanings for the later generations of Muslims that they had for the original Arabs to whom the Qur’an had been revealed. It is for these two reasons that in the more recent lexicons and commentaries many of the Qur’anic words began to be explained not by their original sense but by what they had by then come to stand for, e.g., The word ilah, as used in respect of others than God, came to be synonymous with idols or gods; The word rabb came to mean only someone who brings up or rears or feeds another or provides for his worldly needs; ‘Ibadah began to be understood as the performance of a set of rituals of “worship”; Deen began to mean a religion, or belief in some precepts; and the word Thaghut began to be translated to mean an idol or the Devil.

The result obviously was that it became difficult for people to get at the real message of the Qur’an. The Qur’an asks people not to regard any other than Allah as an ilah. People thought that since they had actually given up the worship of idols or of others regarded as gods, they had fulfilled the requirements, although in practice they have in fact gone on treating others as gods, but without the least suspicion crossing their minds that they were actually doing so. The Qur’an had asked that men should not acknowledge any other than God as rabb. The people thought that since they did not profess anyone else to be a rabb, they had complied with the full requirements of the concept of Tawhid. True enough, their oral professions or even their own understanding of their beliefs and actions, denoted that for them Allah was the one and only Rabb, but they little realized that by their actions they were instead according to many another too the status of rabb. They protested that they no longer worshiped the idols, that they uttered curses on the Devil, and prostrated themselves before Allah only, and so here too they were doing all that the Qur’an required of them. And yet, how far they were from that! All they did was to give up the idols shaped by the hands of men, but not any of the other Thaghuts, and as for ‘ibadah, here too, except for the formalities generally associated with worship, they continued giving it to many others besides Allah. The same has been the case with deen. To reserve it exclusively for Allah -came to mean to profess only the “religion of Islam,” and not any of the other religions known as such, and this was all that was required and whosoever did this had satisfied the criterion of exclusiveness, although when looked at from the wider connotation of the word deen the majority fall far, far short of the criterion.

The Criterion for Godhood

There is a clear logical inter-connection between all the different concepts of ilah. Whosoever regards any other person or being to be his helper or patron in the supernatural sense, or capable of solving his problems or fulfilling his needs, of hearing and granting his prayers, or of doing him harm or good, does so only because he believes that Person or being to enjoy some measure of authority in the management of the universe.

Similarly, if a person’s avoidance of certain actions or performance of others is governed by the hope or fear that they would win him the pleasure or displeasure of some other person or being, he does so obviously because of belief that that person or being possesses some kind of supernatural authority in shaping the affairs of men. As for him who believes in God and yet turns to others for the fulfilment of his needs, he too can do so only because he believes them to have some share in God’s authority. And, lastly, no different is the case of the person who accords the status of law to the commandments of someone other than God, and binds himself to obey the injunctions or prohibitions of that someone, for he in effect thereby accords him supreme authority. We can therefore safely conclude that the essence of godhood is authority, whether it is conceived as sovereignty of a supernatural kind over the whole universe, or on the basis that man is bound by God’s law in his worldly life and that all of His injunctions are to be complied with because they emanate from Him.

P.S : We request the muslim brethren that please don’t attribute any kind of act which is a type of worship, be it Dua(suuplication) or Nazr, etc to anyone other than Allah. Its such an important issue in regards to tawheed that it even COMPELLED a renowned AND ESTEEMED SHIA AYATUALLAH to go against the view held by Shias and their scholars in general and to declare that asking for our need to Ali(ra) is impermissible. And he is not an ordinary scholar, another esteemed Shia scholar Al khoei said: Sayeed Fadllah is a jurist scholar and has his opinion. His hand is my hand and his tongue is my tongue {He represents me} (source)
الإمام الخوئي: السيد فضل الله عالم مجتهد وله رأيه,يده يدي ولسانه لساني

Now let us present before you that what this Shia Ayatullah said on his official website[Source of the answers]:

Question: If I can ask Allah (The Most Exalted) and Imam Ali (a.s.) for a need, who is worthier to be asked, Allah or Imam Ali (a.s.)? Or, can we say that there is no priority?

Answer: Allah is the only one Whom we should ask for our needs, where as, asking Imam Ali (a.s.) only for the needs while, believing that he is the one who answers them, is considered as ascribing him as (a.s.) a partner for Allah.  ( Publish Date: 11/28/2006 9:03:13 AM “)

Question: Is it prohibited according to Islamic law to say “o Ali” (ya Ali)?

Answer: It is not prohibited to say (ya Ali), as long as the supplication is not addressed to anyone except to Allah and Ahl El-Beit (a.s) are but the intercessors. Although the Niyyah (the intention) is so, it is better that one should not address in his supplication anyone except Allah. ( Publish Date: 8/17/2006 9:53:38 AM”)

“Question: Is it permissible to supplicate and pray to the Imams with the intention that they are the means to Allah? If the answer is no, what is your opinion regarding this matter and what do you think about this Aya: {and seek mean of nearness to Allah}?

Answer: The supplication must be only addressed to Allah (The most Exalted) and this is what traditions of the Imams (a.s) have said. The Ayah refers to the means that guide to Allah and the Imams (a.s) are the guides to Allah because they know Allah, His religion and His message. Therefore, this Ayah does not mean that we have to address the supplication to the Imams and not to Allah (The Most Exalted). (Publish Date: 12/28/2006 1:42:10 PM”)


We recommend these articles

We recommend the people who want to study this issue in a detailed manner to please read these articles thoroughly inorder to fully and correctly understand the concept of Tawheed in Islam. So that you could remove any sort of misconception if its present in your understanding of Tawheed.

The Meaning of La Ilaha Illallah

The Meaning of ILAH

Tawheed (1 / 2) : Its Meaning and Importance

Tawheed (2/2): What It Consists Of


2 thoughts on “A very Important Issue for understanding Tawheed: What is meaning of ilah?

  1. Salam,

    Appreciating your article being shia.

    Unfortunately, Ayatullah Fadlullah is not very much accepted in Shia community. He showed great courage in saying many things openly, contradicting with prevalent Shia Ideology. May ALLAH spread this message to many more Shias and purify their Tawheed.

    *Reference link (source) about Ayatullah Khoi’s comment on Shaikh Fadlullah, is not working. It will help me if you rectify the same.


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